All-Party Motion on Northern Ireland Speech by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, TD
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All-Party Motion on Northern Ireland
Speech by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, TD
11 March 2009
The unity of purpose evident in what all speakers have said in this House sends a clear signal to all that – in the words of the motion - “Dáil Eireann stands united together with the Irish and British Governments, the First and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, the members of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, democratic representatives and all the people of this island, and friends of Ireland around the world, in full support of the democratic institutions and in absolute opposition to violent attempts to undermine the peace process”.
This reaffirmation of the primacy of politics and the unassailable strength of the peace process is what all of us should carry with us from this debate today. It will underpin our resolve as we continue - undeterred - to sustain and strengthen the peace which we have built on this island and to work together to build a better society –North and South.
By contrast, the murderers who have this week brought bloodshed back onto the streets of our country have thrown down a blatant and arrogant challenge to the overwhelming majority of Irish men and women who want to build on this island a sovereign, democratic Irish Republic, embracing all the people of our Nation.
We seek a republic absent of sectarianism; a republic in which people of all backgrounds and traditions can feel equally at home; a republic where people can express their identity free from fear or intimidation.
In 1998, the people of Ireland voted by a majority, and by majorities North and South, in favour of the Good Friday Agreement. This was the first occasion since the General Election of 1918 – the election at which the people selected the representatives who sat in the first Dáil – on which all the people of this island voted on the same day on the issue of their constitutional status.
The Good Friday Agreement provided an agreed basis for addressing partition and clarifying the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. Under its terms, the British Government has entered into a binding international treaty obligation to withdraw from Northern Ireland, if and when a majority of the people in Northern Ireland should ask it to do so.
At the same time, the Irish people, North and South, accepted that Northern Ireland remains in union with Britain unless and until the majority in the North desire otherwise.
Currently, a majority in the North wish to remain in union with Britain. That majority, not the British Army, are the British presence in Ireland. The people who make up this majority are not aliens. They are Irishmen and women who, like all of us on this island, are immigrants by descent or birth.
When the people of this island voted by an overwhelming majority to adopt the Good Friday Agreement, we endorsed the common recognition by the Irish and British Governments that is “the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose”.
It falls to our generation of Irish republicans to convince those in Northern Ireland who currently support the union with Britain that their future is best secured in a closer accommodation with the majority with whom they share the island. We have accepted the right of a majority in the North to say No but we will not cease our efforts to bring them with us through peaceful and respectful persuasion.
Murder wins no converts to the republican cause. On the contrary, it serves only to alienate, to entrench division and give new life to sectarianism and intolerance.
It was wrong to murder two young British soldiers doing nothing more than taking delivery of their Saturday night dinner. It was wrong to shoot down a Polish pizza man and his Irish colleague doing their best to earn an honest living. It was wrong to kill an Irish policeman seeking to protect the vulnerable members of his community. Their murders were callous and cowardly.
These dreadful and cynical acts were entirely wrong in every sense. But to claim to have carried out these wicked deeds in the name of the Irish Republic is more than wrong, it is a betrayal.
Let there be no doubt or delusion; those who this week claimed to kill in the name of the Irish Republic served only to betray the Republic and the Nation on which it is founded.
The sad truth is that those who resort to the gun and the bomb in the name of republicanism do not have the stomach for the long haul. Their vision is so clouded by hatred, so distorted by the shadow of the heroic gunman, that they are unable to see that resorting to short term gratification through violence and the mantra of “Brits Out” will never deliver the Republic they claim to espouse.
An Irish Republic worthy of the name needs to be constructed on the solid foundations of friendship, tolerance and inclusion. Our republican flag stands not for conquest but for peace and reconciliation between the green and orange.
The modern republican vocation requires stamina, patience and forbearance. It obliges us to jettison old resentments and to live with our neighbours as they are rather than as we would wish them to be.
We who seek to build this modern Republic must respond to this week’s betrayal by recommitting ourselves to our goals. We must reject violence, hatred and intolerance. We must renew our determination to build a better, fairer, more peaceful and prosperous Ireland. We must strive even harder to work the institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement and to cooperate with the British Government to that end.
Above all, we must refute any attempt to re-open wounds on this Island that are still in the early stages of healing.
The republican road will be long and, most likely, tortuous. Some or many who walk this path may not live to see this new land. But violence offers no short cuts. It will simply bring us back to where we started; a black and dismal place to which we must never return. The only way to a modern Irish Republic runs across the high ground of peace and friendship between the people of this island and the peoples of Ireland and Britain.
At this difficult time, I want to salute the party leaders in the Assembly for setting aside party politics in order to send a clear and united message both of condemnation for what has occurred and determination that it will not prevent Northern Ireland from continuing on its current path toward a better and shared future.
I want to pay a particular tribute to the First Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who have shown great leadership dignity and resolve in this very difficult week for Northern Ireland. In particular their joint appearance yesterday with the Chief Constable sent a powerful signal that both communities in Northern Ireland stand together in rejecting violence and criminality and in opposing any effort to undermine the extraordinary progress which has been achieved over the last decade.
I am proud that this House has so clearly expressed its solidarity with the Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland.
The fact that all parliamentary representatives on this island have spoken with one voice underscores that fact that those who committed the attacks at Antrim and Craigavon represent no-one but themselves. They are a tiny minority on the fringe of society who would seek through their murderous acts to drag Northern Ireland back to the darkness and despair of violence and fear. Nor will they be allowed to subvert the expressed will of the people of the island to live in peace and partnership.
The Government has of course remained in close contact with the British Government throughout this week. The Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform and I met with Secretary of State Woodward and Minister Paul Goggins at Hillsborough last night to discuss the situation.
We took the opportunity to express in person the Government’s condolences for the loss suffered by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the British Army and to emphasise that the thoughts and prayers of the Irish people are with the bereaved and the injured.
Cooperation between the Gardaí and the PSNI has been excellent and they have had considerable successes though, of course, that can be cold comfort at a time like this. The Chief Constable and the Garda Commissioner will hold a meeting this Thursday to discuss how best to continue to work the present arrangements effectively and maximise cooperation in dealing with the dissident threat.
In closing I want to emphasise the importance of the discussion we have had in this House today because it has underlined the primacy of politics at this difficult time for Northern Ireland. The Governments and the political parties will remain steadfast in demonstrating on a daily basis the strength, stability and effectiveness of the power –sharing institutions and the political and democratic process.
The message which goes out from this House today is that those who seek to subvert the will of the people will not succeed because we - the people of these islands – whatever our political, religious or community identity – will not let them.
11 March 2009